#MoralEmergency

On July 2, 2018 in La Opinión, the largest Spanish-language newspaper in the United States, Bend the Arc published a translation of the Declaration of a State of Moral Emergency, signed by over 200 Jewish organizations and more than 18,000 American Jews in response to the Trump administration’s separation and detention of immigrant families.  Reconstructing Judaism, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, and many Reconstructionist congregations are among the signers. Here is a link to a pdf of the full-page ad.

For more ways to get involved with other local Jews organizing to serve our immigrant neighbors threatened with deportation, see the blog and website “We Were Strangers MI.”

 

To this country, in whose promise we still believe, to the millions of people who are outraged and horrified, and especially to the thousands of children who have been separated from their families, we declare our nation to be in a state of moral emergency.

This Administration has established border policies unprecedented in their scope and cruelty, that are inflicting physical, mental, and emotional harm on immigrants and punishing those seeking refuge at our borders.

We are anguished by the stories and images of desperate parents torn from their babies and detention facilities packed with children. We shudder with the knowledge that these inhumane policies are committed in our name, and we lift our voices in protest.

The Jewish community, like many others, knows all too well what it looks like for a government to criminalize the most vulnerable, to lie and obfuscate to justify grossly immoral practices under the banner of “the law,” to interpret holy scripture as a cover for human cruelty, to normalize what can never be made normal. We have seen this before.

When crying children are taken from their parents’ arms, the American Jewish community must not remain silent.

To those who are targeted by these cruel policies, know that the Jewish community hears your cries. We will take risks to support you, and we will demand that our nation’s leaders take action. We will not abide the claim that people didn’t know or understand the extent of your suffering; we will not allow your torment to be in vain.

Our government can persist in this inhumane behavior only if good people remain silent.

And so we declare a state of moral emergency, and we rise to meet this moment. Even as our democratic institutions are under duress, we raise our voices and take decisive action. United by the wisdom of our tradition, we stand with immigrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, with the children, and with their parents. We declare: Not here. Not now. Not in our name.

Letter from Lillie Schneyer

Mark, Jacob and Lillie Schneyer, Debbie Field looking proud at Lillie graduation from Carleton, June 2018.

In June 2018, Lillie Schneyer, daughter of AARC board president Debbie Field and Mark Schneyer, graduated from Carleton College, with majors in sociology and anthropology. Next, she’ll be following in the footsteps of Rabbi Alana, Rabbi Ora, and Molly Kraus-Steinmetz by spending the year doing social justice work through Avodah. Lillie is raising money to support that work, here is a link to her fundraiser!
Below is Lillie’s letter to our AARC community.

Hello, family and friends!

If you know me at all, you know that I like to be useful, try to be a positive force in my community, and, like most people, I am a little unsure of what I want to do with my life. Searching for a job for after college was initially overwhelming; it’s a big world, and I could do so many things. When I found Avodah, it was clearly a perfect fit. Through Avodah’s Jewish Service Corps program, I was matched with a supportive community, an organization that helps people, and a job that will allow me to be useful and learn more about the world.

Thanks to Avodah’s job matching program, I will spend the next year working as a volunteer coordinator at Cabrini Green Legal Aid (CGLA) in Chicago. CGLA serves people who have been negatively impacted by the criminal justice system. By helping with expungement and record sealing petitions, other legal services, and partnering with social service organizations, CGLA helps its clients overcome barriers related to their arrests and convictions as they build better lives. As the volunteer coordinator, I’m excited to bring my energy and organizational skills to help make this work possible.

Avodah is making this all happen for me, and I am especially thrilled about the opportunity to live with other young Jewish adults doing similar social justice work. Through the Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Congregation, I have been lucky to grow up with a Jewish community full of learning and friendship. I hope that next year, the Avodah community will help me discover what being a Jewish adult might look like for me, and and I look forward to the support, challenges, and new friends that it will bring

I am so excited for this unique opportunity, and your support for this campaign would mean a lot as I work to raise $1500 before I leave for Chicago in August. Whatever you feel comfortable donating will be much appreciated, and please reach out to me if you have any questions or want to know more. Thank you for your time!

Us, God and Challah

touching the challah

“Everyone touch someone who is touching the challah!”

by Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner

It’s hard for me to resist an easy pun, so when I decided to teach a Shavuot session on challah and how this seemingly innocuous bread is rooted in a fraught relationship between the Jewish people and God, I couldn’t help myself; I named the session, “A Long and ‘Twisted’ Relationship: Us, God, and Challah.”

We began our tikkun leil session by each sharing a memory of challah from our childhoods. We then asked and attempted to answer the question: Why do we eat challah on Shabbat?

Looking through Numbers 15 (click here to access the entire source sheet/study guide), we learned that the mitzvah of challah comes from a commandment in the Torah to set aside a loaf of bread for God “as a gift.” And why 2 gift-loaves, and not just one? Because as the Israelites wandered in the desert, God “rained down bread” for them from the sky – aka manna – and on Fridays, two portions of manna fell, so that the Israelites would not have to gather food on Shabbat.

As we read through the manna story, it became clear that manna was 1. Given by God quite begrudgingly, and 2. That the Israelites mistrusted that God would continuously and consistently provide them with food. The episode of the manna quickly became a test of Israelite faith; the Israelites were ordered by Moses to gather only as much manna as they could eat each day; any manna stored for the following day would rot and become infested with maggots.

The rabbis of the Mishnaic and Talmudic eras had a field day with this enmeshed relationship as the Israelites sought safety and comfort in sustenance and God used food to teach them a lesson. The rabbis considered a variety of lenses through which to understand the relationship:

Rabbi Tarfon imagined God gently extending a hand each morning to deliver the manna like dew, and he imagined that at the same time, God collected Israelite prayers and returned with them to heaven.

Rabbi Shimon wondered why the manna didn’t simply descend once a year, and suggested alternately that 1. God wanted closeness with the Israelites, and thought that their reliance on daily deliveries of manna would reinforce the bond; 2. God wanted to reassure the hungry Israelites that they would consistently be provided for; or 3. God didn’t want to burden the Israelites by making them carry a year’s worth of manna as they trekked through the desert.

So: what are your earliest memories of biting into this sweet and complicated bread? How does challah keep you anchored to God, your ancestors, or tradition?

Zander McLane Bar Mitzvah dvar: Shelach

Shabbat shalom! My Torah portion is Shelach. At the beginning of Shelach, all the Israelites are in the desert near Canaan when God tells Moses to send twelve spies, one from each of the twelve tribes, to go check out Canaan. Moses sends the spies to the hill country so that they can come back and tell the people what kind of land it is, and he also tells them to bring back ripe grapes to show what kinds of fruits grow in Canaan.

When the spies get there, they look around the country and eventually find grapes so big that they need two people and a frame of wood to carry the grapes.

After forty days in Canaan, the twelve spies come back to the Israelites and report their findings. Ten of the spies end up telling the community that the people of Canaan are giants, and will kill everybody. Thus the community goes into terror. The whole community shouts and cries, saying that that they would rather go back to Egypt and be slaves again because it is better to be a slave than to fall to the sword.

When God hears this, God gets mad. God says to Moses that God is going to strike the Israelites down because they don’t have faith in God, and will make a nation more numerous than the Israelites to replace them.

Moses begs God not to destroy the Israelites and, while God and Moses are talking, the people sneak away. (Just kidding!) What actually happens is that Moses begs for God’s mercy for the Israelites and, because of Moses, God changes their punishment. Rather than being killed, God decides that the unfaithful Israelites will wander the wilderness for forty years, one year for each day the spies scouted the land, and their children will wander until the last of their carcasses drop.

And then there’s some boring and important stuff about offerings… But who cares about that! Moving on.

As I was reading through my Torah portion, the question I was most curious about was why there were twelve spies, exactly. In my Haftorah portion, forty years after the events I just described, Joshua sends two new spies (these ones do a slightly better job) to Jericho, the city they want to conquer. In the first few minutes of being in Jericho they get caught, and hide in a woman’s house. The woman is named Rahab and she is awesome, because when the king’s men see the spies go into her house she lies to the king’s men and says they’re not there. This allows the spies to escape out her window. In return for this great deed the spies tie a red cord on her window so when the Israelite army comes back to attack the city, they make sure not to kill anyone in her house.

As you can see, in my Haftorah, there are only two spies; but in my Torah portion, there are twelve. Why this discrepancy in numbers, when in both cases there are spies being sent to check out the land they want to conquer? How did they decide who to send as spies, and how many?

Now, I’m gonna pull a Rashi here. Rashi was a medieval French rabbi and you could say he had the catchphrase, “what’s bugging Rashi?” because he would be bugged by practical details of what was happening in Torah stories and interpret them. So instead of what’s bugging Rashi, “what’s bugging Zander?” When I came up with this joke, I thought it was funny that my and Rashi’s Hebrew names are both Shlomo.

So what’s bugging me is this question: why was it important to send exactly these twelve people in Shelach to scout out the Land of Israel?

To get some things straight, these people were not the best spies of the Israelites. These people were the sons of the chiefs of the twelve tribes. So why send these people, and not, like, actual trained spies?

My answer to this is, maybe these sons of the chiefs were seen to be trustworthy people by all the tribes, and when they would report back to their own tribe, their tribe would trust their report. Also, maybe, the thought process was that the more people you send, the harder it is for lies to get through. Just see how that went down! Because in factuality ten lied and two didn’t (Joshua and Caleb, the people who called out the liars).

Also, wouldn’t having one spy from each of the different tribes potentially lead to conflict? At the very least, if each spy was from a different tribe, they’d probably have different customs, and each do things differently. This might cause a lot of disagreement within the group.

On the other hand, there would be a couple advantages to sending spies from different tribes; they probably wouldn’t know each other that well, so they wouldn’t have any dirt on each other, and wouldn’t be able to manipulate each other. Another advantage of sending one spy from each Israelite tribe is that they would be a very diverse group, with a diverse skill set. They could each weigh in to get the best possible solution to any problem that could come up as they were traveling.

As you can see there could have been advantages and disadvantages to sending these twelve spies. But what actually happened was that their spying was a complete disaster — ten lied and two told the truth, and the Israelites were almost destroyed!

So: Whose idea was it to send out twelve spies in the first place then? If we look back at my Torah portion, it says in Numbers chapter 13, verse 1: “And God spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Send men to scout the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelite people; send one man from each of their ancestral tribes, each one a chieftain among them.’”

So it seems as though God told Moses to send one spy from each tribe. But Ibn Ezra (who was a Spanish Rabbi dude, which is interesting that the two rabbis I have talked about were both from the middle ages, and were from countries that were rivals at certain points in history) — Ibn Ezra says that when it’s written in the Torah “Send forth,” that what actually happened was first God said to the Israelites “Go and conquer.” Then the Israelites said to themselves: “Let’s send people first.” And only after this, God said: “Send forth men.”

According to Ibn Ezra, then, the Israelites were the ones who wanted the reassurance of spies — it wasn’t something that God thought should happen in the first place. It was more like God was saying, “fine, you can have that” — like God was bitter.

All in all, I have to say, that sending twelve spies wasn’t the best idea that the Israelites had. It made God mad, plus it seems like the Israelites were not the sharpest knives in the drawer, because they chose such bad spies! And because those ancient Israelites were so gullible, if Joshua and Caleb had not called out the ten spies that lied, we’d all be Egyptian. So thank goodness that the liars got called out.

A couple lessons I think we can draw from this story is that there’s not always strength in numbers. Also that liars never prosper, meaning that people who lie always can and will be found out eventually.

So kids (and maybe parents too), this is why you don’t lie. There is always some negative unintended effects from lying, cheating, and other non-truthful behaviour, like loss of trust and punishment. As the prophet Jeremiah eloquently states, “The Lord God is truth.” Also, in the Talmud, Pesachim 113b, it is written, “The Holy One, blessed be God, hates a person who says one thing with his mouth and another in his heart.” I know I sounded like a book there, but the point is, Judaism teaches us: don’t lie.

AARC 2018 High School Grads!

This year, six AARC members graduated high school! Mazel tov to the families, and best wishes for each graduate as they head into a new stage of their life.

Margo Schlanger and Sam Bagenstos’ son Harry Bagenstos graduated from Greenhills School with awards in History/Social Science and Debate. Harry will be attending Wesleyan University in the fall. Margo and Sam’s daughter Leila Bagenstos graduated Greenhills with awards in Writing and French and will be attending Bryn Mawr College in the fall.

 

 

 

 

Eli Shoup, son of Sarai Brachman Shoup and David Shoup, is headed to Chicago to attend DePaul University in the fall.

 

 

Max Resnick, Paul Resnick and Caroline Richardson’s son, graduated from Community High School.  He will be going to the University of Michigan in the fall to study economics.  He is a highly ranked Hearthstone player.  For his graduation present he will be traveling to Austin Texas to play in a Hearthstone tournament.

 

 

Saul Vielmetti, son of Deborah Fisch and Edward Vielmetti, graduated from Community High School. He will be attending Eastern next year to study Technical Theater.

 

 

Debbie Zivan and Cheryl Jeffery’s son Brayan Zivan is doing a gap year with Tivnu in Portland. The Tivnu Gap Year is nine months of hands-on Jewish social justice engagement. Participants create a community living together, discovering the Pacific Northwest, and exploring the bond between Jewish life and social justice while working with Portland’s cutting-edge grassroots organizations.

 

 

 

 

A letter from Anita about the Poor People’s Campaign

Dear AARC,

Yesterday I participated in the fifth week of rallies and actions with the Poor People’s Campaign. An effort initiated long ago by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., it has been re-awakened  by Rev. William Barber, who speaks of it as a national call for a moral revival.

In 30 or more states, in their Capitol cities, protests have been held each week since May 14. The next local rally will be next Monday, June 18, this time in Detroit, and then on the 25th there will be a national protest in D.C.  Each week has had a theme and a related action of civil disobedience.

You may not have heard about the Poor People’s Campaign and their acts of civil disobedience. Here is a good article about the Poor People’s Campaign, that also answers some of the questions folks are asking about the civil disobedience portion of the campaign and why people were asked to used social media to publicize and promote the demands and goals.

This week’s theme was fair wages and affordable housing. We were joined  in Lansing by a large group from Detroit, D15, fighting for a $15 minimum wage. The civil disobedience took place at the Michigan State Department of Housing Development, where a group called Moratorium Now had a scheduled meeting to try to reverse the decision to use millions of dollars to demolish homes in Detroit and elsewhere instead of helping people in foreclosure.

We were a diverse group racially and age wise. There was a strong clergy presence, and Rabbis Alana Alpert and Ariana Silverman were among them.

Jewish Text Study

EVERYBODY’S GOT A RIGHT TO LIVE: JOBS, INCOME,
THE RIGHT TO ORGANIZE AND HOUSING
by Rabbi Michael Rothbaum

I was trained for the civil disobedience action and volunteered to be one of those to be arrested. There is personal and legal support teams for those who volunteer for an action. The movement is well organized and spirits are kept lifted through chant and song. I am writing this to encourage anyone with the inclination and availability to participate next Monday. The Michigan chapter has a web page and a Facebook page.

The Poor People’s Campaign is worth your attention if you feel called to speak for justice in any of these areas: universal healthcare, LGBT rights, gender equality, fair wages, affordable housing, public education, free higher education, an end to racism etc.

Shalom,

Anita Rubin-Meiller

Belonging in America

By Etta Heisler

I was delighted to dive back into Jewish education at this year’s Shavuot celebration. For five years I worked at the Jewish Women’s Archive writing curricula and supporting Jewish educators as they incorporated contemporary Jewish texts and women’s voices into their work. Upon returning to my roots here in Ann Arbor (and quite literally as a program director at a nature center), I had no idea how much I was missing getting to dissect, share, and explore Jewish texts in this setting.

A quick note: this Shavuot, it was particularly meaningful for me to do some teaching as I continue to mourn the recent death of my Savta, my grandmother Dr. Diane Averbach King. My Savta was a passionate educator and respected scholar, in addition to being a doting and committed grandparent. While much of her work focused on Hebrew and Israel education, she is one of the few people I could always call to talk through ideas, struggles, or interesting new sources. I greatly appreciate the AARC community for inviting me to participate in this way–I cannot say enough how meaningful it was to connect with her memory at this time.

In my session, we explored our own experiences belonging–or not–in Jewish community before diving into four non-traditional “Jewish texts” that depict Jewish life in America: a photograph, a page from a newsletter, an excerpt of letter from a daughter to her parents, and a screen shot of a social media post. I have included the text study packet via Google Drive–feel free to use it or share it, just make sure you give credit where credit is due!

Thinking about the current political state of our country, and of the Jewish community both in the US and globally, there were several ideas that rose to the front of my mind as I looked through sources on jwa.org for this session:

  1. What is the relationship between personal identity and community identity?
  2. What makes, or who defines, a community?
  3. How does one know if one is “in” or “out” of a given community? In other words, how does one know if one belongs in a community or not?
  4. What is the relationship between inclusion (saying who is in) and exclusion (saying who is out) in creating community?

As we looked at each source, we started first with observation (I do, after all, work in science education, so we followed the scientific method). I like to use some standard questions adapted from the method of Visual Thinking Strategies: “What is going on in this source? What do we see/read that makes us say that? What information is missing or confusing?” After we explored, looked for evidence, and hypothesized, I provided some additional historical context and we asked “What more can we see or understand? What more do we want to know?”

In the end, our conversation barely got started before time was up (perhaps next year, we’ll have an all-night session?!). However, our wide-ranging discussion did leave me with a few observations that I think we might be able to use to draw some generalities around the idea of “Belonging,” our theme for the night:

  1. There are many forces that create belonging, some are experienced internally in individuals, and some are experienced externally in groups.
  2. One does not have to feel that one belongs in order for others to see them as part of a community.
  3. Search for belonging can sometimes lead to cohesion and sometimes to separation, or even bigotry.

I encourage you to take one, some, or all of these sources and explore them on your own, with friends at a Shabbat dinner or lunch, or a chevruta learning partner either face-to-face or virtually. What questions do these sources raise for you? What lessons can they teach us, or what insight can they provide about our contemporary communities? How do they help us understand our own sense of belonging–or exclusion?

Thank you again for this tremendous opportunity. Looking forward to learning more!

 

On the ground learning

Jewish/Arab education and organizing in Israel and Palestine

An evening of stories in support of the bilingual storybook and curriculum Sweet Tea with Mint

Thursday, June 14, 7-9pm
Temple Beth Emeth, lower level
2309 Packard, Ann Arbor
Click here to view and save a flyer for the event

Sweet Tea with Mint

Several members of our community have made trips to Israel/Palestine recently, specifically visiting organizations of Israeli and Palestinian educators and activists who, amidst a present of terrible conflict,  are working toward a viable future for the region’s peoples. On June 14th, they will be telling stories from their trips at an event organized to raise money for a bilingual educational project.

Sweet Tea With Mint and Other Stories is the heart of a new educational curriculum that was developed by Hagar: Jewish-Arab Education for Equality in Beer Sheva. The anthology is composed of six stories focusing on Jewish, Muslim, and Christian holidays, written by distinguished children’s writers in Hebrew and Arabic. Hagar is dedicated to creating a shared space for Jewish and Arab residents of the Negev – a space based on the foundations of multiculturalism, bilingualism and equality.

The storytellers at the event include AARC members Rebecca Kanner, Alice Mishkan and Debbie Zivan. Clare Kinberg, AARC Communications Coordinator will MC.

Rebecca traveled to Israel/Palestine in May 2017, her first visit in over 30 years.  She was part of the Center for Jewish Nonviolence (CJNV) delegation of over 100 Jewish activists from around the world.  CJNV was in a coalition with 5 Palestinian, Israeli and diaspora groups that created the Sumud Freedom Camp in the West Bank village of Sarura, in South Hebron.

Alice just returned from her third year leading a study abroad to Israel and Palestine through the University of Michigan. This year, Michigan students partnered with Palestinian students at Sakhnin Teacher’s College. Students learned about the differences in educations systems for Palestinians with Israeli citizenship and Jewish Israelis. Students compared these to education systems in the United States, and learned about how education can be a tool for social change.

Debbie is just back from a family trip to Israel/Palestine for her nephew’s wedding. In addition to visiting with family (half of whom live on settlements), Debbie and family toured Hebron, the Jerusalem Hand in Hand school and stayed overnight in Neve Shalom/Wahat al Salaam. The combination of celebrating with family, seeing examples of how Arab and Jewish Israelis are prioritizing pathways to peace and a dual narrative tour that stressed the wrongs of the “other side” made for an interesting trip – a trip that created a sense of urgency to find ways to make a difference.

Hagar’s director of Director of Partnerships and Resource Development, Karen Abu Adra, will also be present to tell us more about the school and its importance to the Negev region. Karen is originally from Lancaster, Pennsylvania but has been married to a Bedouin dentist from Segev Shalom, Israel and living in Israel since 1993. They have three adult sons.  Karen taught English for 13 years in a Bedouin high school in the Bedouin city of Rahat and has been working for Hagar for a year and half.

There is a very nice connection between Hagar and the Reconstructionist movement. Hagar’s Executive Director, Sam Shube, writes:

My name is Sam Shube and I’m CEO of the Hagar Association. I served as director of Kehillat Mevakshei Derech in Jerusalem, Israel’s first Reconstructionist congregation.  Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan, z”l, was a member of Mevakshei when he lived in Israel.  The motive force for its establishment was Rabbi Jack Cohen, z”l, one of Kaplan’s leading students in Israel, a man I knew and loved.  Other Reconstructionist leaders of Mevakshei have included Jewish educator Norman Schainin.  Though I am not an ordained rabbi, my Master’s Thesis was on Kaplan and John Dewey, and I’ve always adhered to Kaplan’s views on Jewish civilization and democracy.  (I’m still a member of Mevakshei, where I occasionally read Torah and give a sermon).

I’ve lived in Israel for over 30 years (I did my undergraduate work at JTS and Columbia) and served in a variety of nonprofits. Of everything I’ve seen in this country, however, Hagar — the bilingual school in Beer Sheba — is the most familiar reflection of Kaplan’s idea of community.  Hagar’s Arab and Jewish families are intensively active on a day-to-day level, organizing field trips and fundraisers, and providing mutual assistance.   Last night at our Iftar celebration (the traditional Ramadan break-fast), Jewish and Arab families helped their children prepare gifts for hospitalized Gazan children – at the very time when Israel and the Hamas were trading rockets and artillery just a few miles to the west.   And I myself used to platform to raise funds from parents for scholarships to help needy families cover tuition fees.   Other recent community events have included discussions on the Moslem and Jewish connection with Jerusalem, and a visit to a Beer Sheba mosque.

Hagar’s community is remarkably diverse.  It includes Arabs from urban centers in northern Israel and Bedouins’ from the Negev, Jews from underserved neighborhoods in town and professors from the university.  Our community welcomes LGBT families, something not to be taken for granted in the more traditional environment of both Jewish and Arab communities in southern Israel.   In fact, the very existence of an Arab Jewish school in Beer Sheba – as opposed to more culturally liberal parts of Israel – is a miracle in and of itself.

Jewish Views on Reparations

by Clare Kinberg

May 19th, Erev Shavuot, was an evening of study, cheesecake and blintzes for AARC. There were four study sessions; I hope to do a blog post on each one:

  • Jonas Higbee: “Building a Community Response to Fascism: Lessons from Richard Spencer’s Visit to MSU”
  • Clare Kinberg: “Shavuot4BlackLives: Jewish Views on Reparations”
  • Etta King Heisler: “Belonging in America:  What is Belonging and How Does it Broaden, Limit, Deepen, or Otherwise Define Our Community?”
  • Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner:  “A Long and ‘Twisted’ Relationship: Us, God, and…Challah?”

First up, my session on “Jewish Views on Reparations.” My impetus for the session was “Shilumim,” the shavuot4blacklives study guide put together by Graie Barasch-Hagans, Koach Baruch Frasier and Mackenzie Zev Reynolds and distributed by Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ).

Shilumim is the Hebrew word meaning ‘reparations;’ ‘Leshalem’ is ‘to pay’ from the same root as ‘shalem,’ to make whole. The concept of the study guide is to extend the theme of Shavuot, which Jews begin to count down to on the second night of Passover, the beginning of our liberation, and which traditionally ends with the revelation at Mt Sinai, the receiving of the Torah seven weeks later. Graie, KB and Mackenzie suggest we extend this trajectory another several weeks to end on Juneteenth (June 19) with a focus on what is needed to fulfill liberation. That is, reparations.

Shavuot4blacklives introduces the study by reminding us when the Vision For Black Lives Platform was released in 2016, many members of the Jewish community had strong reactions to the way that Israel was characterized in the document, particularly the use of the word “genocide” in connection to the Palestinian people. At the same time, “Jews of Color in our community called on all of us to remain committed to the Movement For Black Lives, to racial justice, and by extension, to Black Jews no matter what.” They offer this study guide on the reparations sections of the Platform as one way to do that.

The Israelites despoiling the Egyptians. Image from f. 13 of the ‘Golden Haggadah.” 1325–1349

Our discussion was framed using Aryeh Bernstein’s essay, “The Torah Case for Reparations,” in which he draws on many places in Torah to conclude “Jews must support reparations in principle, because we took reparations for our slave labor, we were commanded by God to do so, and we were promised these reparations in the earliest Divine plan for our liberation.” The Bernstein article, a long, worthwhile read (with lots of excellent links) is a specifically Jewish follow-up to Ta-Nehisi Coates 2014 Atlantic essay, “The Case for Reparations.”

As Bernstein’s essay based itself on Torah, Rabbi Sharon Brous’ LA Times Opinion piece, “Why Jews Should Support Reparations for Slavery,” is based on a rabbinic dispute in the Mishna:

Gittin 55a:12

§ The mishna teaches that Rabbi Yoḥanan ben Gudgeda further testified about a stolen beam that was already built into a building and said that the injured party receives the value of the beam but not the beam itself. With regard to this, the Sages taught in a baraita (Tosefta, Bava Kamma 10:5): If one robbed another of a beam and built it into a building, Beit Shammai say: He must destroy the entire building and return the beam to its owners. And Beit Hillel say: The injured party receives only the value of the beam but not the beam itself, due to an ordinance instituted for the sake of the penitent. In order to encourage repentance, the Sages were lenient and required the robber to return only the value of the beam. The mishna was taught in accordance with the opinion of Beit Hillel

I included in our discussion packet two pieces on Affirmative Action that have relevance to our current moment, a moment in which political concord among representatives of Black and Jewish communities is needed, yet is unfortunately characterized by significant discord.

One recent example of the discord: When Starbucks announced that they were closing for an afternoon (Tuesday, May 29) to do a company-wide training on racial bias, they initially included the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) as a consultant on the training. The inclusion of the ADL was immediately met with push-back from some Black activists, which, in turn, was met by dismay from many Jews who think of the ADL as an outstanding leader of anti-bias education. Contemporary Black activists cite the ADL’s frequent coordination with law enforcement and the ADL’s support for U.S. police being trained on crowd-control and counter-terrorism in Israel.

I brought into our Shavuot  discussion my own perspective which relates back to the 1970s when, to my dismay, the ADL argued against Affirmative Action programs, then among the chief policy proposals advocated by African American organizations. The ADL had determined that Affirmative Action was not good for the Jews. Our Ann Arbor community should be interested in the history revealed in this 2003 article “Jews temper views on affirmative action”:

“In the Supreme Court’s landmark 1978 decision against affirmative action in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, Jewish groups lined up in vocal opposition to affirmative programs. In that decision, the court banned quotas but allowed racial criteria to be used in admissions decisions. This time around [2003], their positions are more muted, as well as more diverse. Only the Anti-Defamation League, one of the then-staunchest leaders of the national fight against affirmative action, has filed a brief opposing Michigan’s program.”

I included the 2017 article “Affirmative Action as Reparations” to make the link between the current arguments for reparations and the original thinking behind Affirmative Action.

Menachem Begin protesting against the Reparations from Germany Agreement in March 1952. The sign reads: “Our honor shall not be sold for money. Our blood shall not be atoned by goods. We shall wipe out the disgrace!”

Finally, I included the Yad Vashem Shoah Research Center document on “Reparations and Restitutions,” which, to the surprise of most of us at the table, begins by saying, ‘From 1953-1965, West Germany paid the State of Israel, Jewish survivors, and German refugees hundreds of millions of dollars in a symbolic attempt to make up for the crimes committed by the Nazis during the Holocaust.” The early growth if Israel’s economy was made possible by this money, yet it caused deep division among Jews.

There is a lot of information in this blog, and I hope much food for thought. The comments are open below for any who want to continue this discussion here.

 

AARC Shavuot 2018: Belonging, Behaving, Believing

“In 1934 Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, wrote his classic text Judaism As Civilization. Kaplan taught that there are three ways of identifying with a religious community: by believing, by behaving, and by belonging…And it’s true that no matter what Jews believe, and no matter how Jews behave, there is an underlying, fundamental and intrinsic interconnection that ties us together in a common history and present reality.”

–Rabbi Joe Klein

Celebrate Shavuot with a Night of Learning

Saturday May 19, 7-10 pm at the JCC

Choose from 4 study sessions taught by AARC community members

Eat cheesecake and other dairy sweets

Bring a box of grain to donate to Food Gatherers

Close the evening with Havdallah

7:00 PM:  Gather

7:15-8:15:  Jonas Higbee: “Building a Community Response to Fascism: Lessons from Richard Spencer’s Visit to MSU” (‘Behaving’)

7:15-8:15:  Clare Kinberg: “Shavuot4BlackLives: Jewish Views on Reparations” (‘Behaving’)

8:15-8:30:  Cheesecake Break

8:30-9:30:  Etta King Heisler: “Belonging in America:  What is Belonging and How Does it Broaden, Limit, Deepen, or Otherwise Define Our Community?” (‘Belonging’)

8:30-9:30:  Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner:  “A Long and ‘Twisted’ Relationship: Us, God, and…Challah?” (‘Believing’)

9:30-10:00:  Havdallah